This year we spent a little of our tax return money on some kitchen gadgets, some that were replacements for our badly worn out ones (like our totally broken food processor) and some that we had coveted for quite a while. Even though neither Tim nor I cook professionally any more, I guess you can’t totally shut down the inner chef. One of the most useful gadgets we got was a dehydrator. I had wanted one for years but always thought of it as more of a one-trick pony, something that I would use for a few weeks and then put on a shelf to gather dust. But in the two months that we have had it, I have it running once or twice a week. It has really helped us keep up on using all of our Bountiful Baskets produce and has started to change our snacking habits for the better.
After a lot of research including this article from Mother Earth News, Tim and I chose the Nesco 700watt Food Dehydrator. It is reasonably priced, versatile in the different tasks it can perform, and has plenty of trays and accessories for a reasonable price. First off, I recommend the higher wattage because it makes the drying time faster, most things can be dehydrated in an afternoon, instead of two or three days. This Nesco model has a temperature gage that allows you to fine tune your heat level, depending on what you are dehydrating. It stacks and stores easily, doesn’t take up too much space on the counter, and while you can hear the fan working, it isn’t an intrusive noise level, more a soft background noise. The criticisms I have of this model is that it doesn’t have an on/off switch, which means if you want to check your food you need to unplug it. Also it would be nice if it had a timer on it, we over-dried an otherwise yummy batch of venison jerky because we got busy with bath and bedtimes and forgot that we left the dehydrator running. (The jerky is still edible, just a little tougher than we had wanted.) Tim suggested an outlet timer, you can pick them up at hardware stores, you plug the timer into the outlet then plug the dehydrator into the timer, when your set time is up the timer will switch off, thereby shutting the dehydrator off as well. We haven’t gotten one yet to try, but it should solve the problem nicely.
Overall we are really happy with the choice we made. We have made two different batches of jerky: one where we just thinly sliced the meat before flavoring it, and one where we used ground meat and put it through the jerky gun. Honestly, a jerk gun is just like a cookie press, only bigger. The ground meat/jerky gun version makes a more tender jerky that dehydrates more quickly than the sliced meat version.
We have also dried bananas, strawberries, mango, apples, celery, green peppers, mushrooms, and several different herbs. We used some of my homemade marmalade that didn’t set up as firmly as I would have liked and made a fruit roll up. Very yummy. Dried vegetables are great when you are making soups and sauces, things that they will rehydrate easily in. Being able to throw herbs in the dehydrator keeps me from having that half bunch turning to mush in the back of the crisper drawer. Plus drying your own herbs makes for a fresher tasting product, much more flavorful than what you can buy in stores.
Dried fruit of course, is great in so many applications: as a snack, in granola and trail mix, and is wonderful in oatmeal. Dehydrating also helps when you have fruit that isn’t as sweet as you would like. We have been getting lots of strawberries in our bountiful baskets, but frankly strawberries in winter aren’t that great. However, once you dehydrate them they become an addictive candy. Last but not least, toddlers love helping to sort the dried fruits and vegetables into jars: helpful, educational, and fun!
Berries and Cream Steel Cut Oats
Makes 4 servings
This works well if you have two crock pots (one large and one small), but a large crock pot and a medium sized glass bowl works well too. You are essentially making a double boiler which will keep the oatmeal from scorching during the longer cooking time.
1 Cup steel cut oats
4 Cups water
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup dried berries (I used blueberries and strawberries)
1 Tbsp brown sugar, honey or sweetener of your choice (optional)
½ Cup heavy cream (optional)
1) Put several inches of water into the crock of your largest crock pot.
2) Place oats, water, salt and berries in the crock of a smaller crock pot or in a glass mixing bowl that fits suspended inside the larger crock pot without touching the bottom.
3) Put the large crock pot on low heat, place the smaller crock or bowl into the larger one, cover with a lid and a towel to keep the heat in, and then leave it for at least six hours. In the morning, stir in cream and sweetener if using and serve.
-If you can’t make a double boiler out of your crock pot or don’t want to go to the trouble then just spray the inside of the crock with cooking spray and place all ingredients in the crock pot on low. Don’t let the oatmeal cook for longer than six hours and expect some crusty corners.
- Feel free to leave out the cream for a dairy free version. The long cooking time makes the steel cut oats creamy without the addition of any dairy.
- Any dried fruit works great, just use your favorite. I love dried figs, but the kids aren’t as fond of them. Dried apples and a little cinnamon would be excellent. So would dried cranberries and pecans, raisins and cinnamon, pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice, seriously I don't know what wouldn't be delicious.